January 21, 2013 § Leave a comment
At the end of this post, instead of a poem, is a list of people injured and killed on Gun Appreciation Day. It will make you appreciate the times you use your hands to caress a shoulder, change a diaper, cook a meal, pat a dog, open a door. If you want the heft of a weapon in your hand, try forgiveness. It’s much harder to acquire, and very hard to hold onto, but when you wield it, the results are quite spectacular.
I’ve put in my application, but I only get occasional visits. But even instants of that experience make me deeply appreciative that my violent tendencies stay in my swampy psyche, where they belong.
Oh, how I used to treasure my imagination! Now it’s a survival tool—my outlandish fantasies distract me from the more boring repetitive emotions, bleed off pain—but I don’t like being me, and if I could get out of it in an acceptable way, I would.
Maybe you can’t imagine you could shoot your own child, or that your child could shoot his brother, her friend, herself. Maybe you don’t know your potential for rage, for what happens the day your beloved says, “I’m in love with someone else—but I still need you.” I bent my favorite carbon steel knife stabbing a book instead of my heart. Every time I use that knife, I remember. No amount of guns falling from the sky would make me kill someone, but myself? Who knows? Stabbing oneself in the heart is very difficult. Pulling a trigger, not so much.
It’s late to be learning the things I’m learning, all of which I’d read about repeatedly by the time I was 25. I devoured all the great spiritual texts and understood them intellectually, felt their emotional pull. I remember quite distinctly thinking something akin to St. Augustine’s, “Lord, make me chaste, but not yet.” I thought the age I am now was the proper age for “goodness,” assuming that by now I would have had success, passion, exciting experiences, and so on. And I have, though not as I imagined them.
It used to be, for crimes of passion, you got a pass (if you were male). That once made me furiously indignant, but now I kind of get it (and probably would get it more if I were male). Jealous rage and brokenheartedness are unbearable feelings, and just because most people feel them at one time or another and bear them doesn’t change that. They are unbearable; we get through. They return in dreams and are still unbearable. It’s almost enough to make you believe in the Old Testament God. Who else but that asshole Yahweh would create such a set-up?
I keep stopping the writing—the larger piece of which my gun dialogues are a part—thinking: I need more time to heal. But I want to get it done. I would like nothing better than to abolish the past, erase it and fill those years with pictures of waves at dusk, pine trees in sunlight, the scampering of green monkeys across a road…but the past is real; we saw the monkeys; I have to meet and match it with something big and inclusive of joy and sorrow and stupidity and terror; 11 years of believing that if I lost or left this person, the pain would kill me—
And only slightly over the line of believing that it won’t kill me, though never certain it won’t in some roundabout way—I’m strengthened, maybe; weakened, no question.
But to get back to the positive—there is still and always good news—I haven’t shot anyone, nor will I. My swampy psyche polices its dangerous characters, manhandles them into stories that will eventually dazzle.
And when Charles plays his guitar on the street, people stop and thank him.
(I’m sure you’d rather read a poem than what I’ve copied below. Maybe you should go buy a poetry book.)
Gun Appreciation Day, as it played out
• A 14-year-old suburban Atlanta boy shot and killed his 15-year-old brother while playing with their mother’s handgun.
• A 26 year old was shot and killed while driving in San Francisco.
• A man was found dead from a gunshot wound in his home in Kansas City, Kansas.
• A woman in an El Paso County, Texas shooting range was hit in the knee by a bullet that ricocheted off a trash can.
• Two women were shot to death in a Dallas-area home.
• Two women were injured after someone opened fire at a crowded soccer field in Las Vegas.
• A 15-year-old girl was shot while sleeping in her bed when her Anchorage home was shot at.
• A 7-year-old boy in Tallahassee shot a 5 year old with a gun he found in a 22-year-old relative’s room.
• A Huntsville woman shot her boyfriend after the two had an argument.
• A 23-year-old man died after being accidentally shot in a Greshman, Oregon home.
• A Cleveland father has been charged in connection with the death of his 6-year-old daughter from a self-inflicted gunshot wound.
• One man was shot in Elyria, Ohio, just west of Cleveland, early Saturday morning.
• A man was found shot dead in a parking lot in Greenville County, South Carolina.
• Two people were shot and killed outside an inn in Hampton, Virginia.
• At least 10 people were shot in Chicago, at least two were fatal.
• A Colorado Springs man was driven to the hospital with a gunshot wound.
• A Jackson, Mississippi police officer was shot while responding to a disturbance call.
• One man was shot at a Martin Luther King Jr. parade in Jackson.
• Two men and one woman were shot at a home in Oakland.
• An 11-year-old boy was shot in an Oklahoma City apartment complex.
• Police in Richmond, Virginia are looking for three men who shot another man in his thirties.
• Police believe gang violence is to blame for the shooting death of one man in Santa Ana, California.
• An early morning shooting in Tuscaloosa injured two teenagers.
January 20, 2013 § Leave a comment
I decided to have a chat with my imaginary gun on America’s first Gun Appreciation Day. I know that January 19 was chosen as a fuck-you to our better-than-most President, who has proposed gun control in response to the deaths of 20 children, but guns are a vast territory, an American wet dream, and I am not immune.
My gun is red, dirt-cheap, and can’t shoot straight due to hungry-ghost emotional problems. Her name is Christine, after the deceased wife of an ex-lover who once told me (Christine, not the faithless husband) that she was a rock-ribbed Texan with a powerful & persistent fantasy of shooting men. She was drunk at the time and reminded me of my Aunt June, the lesbian feminist writer, who was also very intelligent, charismatic, obsessive, Texan, profoundly angry at men and drank too much.
“So what do you think about Gun Appreciation Day?”
“It ought to be a national holiday.”
“So women and children can stay home from work and school, hide in the trees.”
“Good idea. I’ll write the President. But about today—you think I should take you out to dinner? Buy you chocolates?”
We all know who “him” is. He, too, was once real but is on the way to becoming imaginary. It’s harder when they’re still alive, but I can do it. I’m like the artist Liza Lou who spent five years creating a portrait of her kitchen out of tiny beads. Bead, words: very similar. It’s why I bought too many of the former, being accustomed to an infinite number of the latter, but that’s another story. The takeaway is: five years. Obsessive focus. An exact replica, but utterly different. Liza Lou’s “Kitchen” was so beautiful it made my whole body light up.
I answered Christine. “As you once said, I’m a mousy sort of person. I can’t shoot anyone and I don’t want to. I understand that the moment of aiming the gun, pulling the trigger, seeing the man fall might be a thrill, but one minute later I’d be terrified of being caught, mauled by guilt, and I’d miss knowing he was alive, much as I hate to admit it—.”
“Shoot the other one, then.”
“Ditto, except I wouldn’t miss her.”
“Then put me back in your subconscious where you have her staked out naked in the sand for the red ants and the pterodactyls, where you’ve installed control-bots in his brain so you can make him cry like the proverbial girl whenever he’s criticized at work, and be inundated by images of drunken chimpanzees watching porn at moments of attempted passion.”
“That was last year. I don’t have those fantasies anymore.” This isn’t true, but I don’t have them quite as often. I also imagine hammering nails into their foreheads, filling their orifices with cement, and weaving a spell to make radioactive worms crawl out of the flesh of their faces.
“Once a fantasy, always a fantasy.”
“That’s what my friend Lisa said. She thinks gun control is admirable but doomed because there are already 10 billion guns out there.”
“Exactly. Your past fantasies never leave you. They build character, as it were. You’re stuck with me, and someday I’ll shoot someone.”
In the leg, maybe. Her bullets always spin sideways and down. “You’ll shoot me.”
“That would be my first choice.”
“I like you, you know, now that you’re dead.”
“You don’t like me, you like your imaginary gun. It soothes your overwhelming awareness of your own powerlessness.”
“I’ve accepted that. I never liked power anyway. I wanted it, but having it made me feel lonely and guilty. What I really wanted was to be in a big love-fest with the world, Valentine’s Day cards for everyone in the class.”
“You’ve accepted it maybe 1%,” she sneered in that special way only a gun can do, the lip of the barrel lifting an eighth of an inch.
“I’m trying to appreciate you, you stupid gun.”
“You’ll never appreciate me. You have no idea. In life, in death, my experiences are beyond the horizon of your mouse-sized imagination.”
“This is also true of the lives of dung beetles, Iranian clerics, and rich men who buy little girls.”
“I could get an assault rifle bra, but I prefer writing.”
“You’re way too old to wear Lady Gaga’s bra and look anything but ridiculous.”
“Sometimes I miss being so full of hatred. It had fire and teeth. Now everything feels pointless. Posthumous. I listen to the newscasters gabble and I think: does anybody really care what the new social trends are? Why don’t we all avert our eyes in embarrassment? America, America. You want to shoot the way other people want to fuck. You want to be free to kill your children or other people’s children, or the neighbor’s dog or your ex-lover. You’d shoot the stars out of the sky if your guns were long enough. America, your poets forgive you and then die, and you just keep getting stupider. What are we going to do about you?”
“How about if we just shoot some cans in the backyard? Okay? This conversation is depressing the fuck out of me.”
“I talk to cats, to the dead, to the figments of my imagination. Don’t deny me simple pleasures.”
The gun squirmed and jerked, knocking itself off the bureau into the kitty litter. She’s going to shoot my cat in the ass, I thought. Bury herself and wait…the bitch…but what can you expect from a gun named Christine? (I assume you’ve all read Stephen King’s novel of that name. No? Hint: King’s Christine is a 1958 Plymouth Fury, but, oh, so much more than that.)
I stuffed her back into the primordial ooze and thought about applying to a writer’s colony in Wyoming.
Never imagine that you know what you will be like in the future, I read recently. What you hate now, what you fear now, what you crave now…it will all be different. Except, of course, that it won’t all be different, just some of it will be, and you don’t know which parts. Isn’t it delightful that the future offers nothing to the present moment, that it is unmade, wide open, that you are suspended in fog and see and hear only a minute fraction of what’s happening around you and inside you; that you are almost (but not quite) an unplanned Lego monstrosity created by a bored 7-year-old boy who will soon kick you to pieces and turn off the light?
The Children’s Hour
Soldiers with guns are at our door again.
Sister, quick. Change into a penny.
I’ll fold you in a handkerchief,
put you in my pocket
and jump inside a sack,
one of the uncooked rice.
Brother, hurry. Turn yourself
into one of our mother’s dolls
on the living room shelf. I’ll be the dust
settling on your eyelids.
The ones wearing wings are in the yard.
The ones wearing lightning are in the house.
The ones wearing stars and carrying knives
are dividing our futures among them.
Don’t answer when they call to us in the voice of Nanny.
Don’t listen when they promise sugar.
Don’t come out until evening,
or when you hear our mother weeping to herself.
If only I could become the mirror in her purse,
I’d never come back until the end of time.
Is My Heart Asleep
Has my heart gone to sleep?
Have the beehives of my dreams
stopped working, the waterwheel
of the mind run dry,
scoops turning empty,
only shadow inside?
No, my heart is not asleep.
It is awake, wide awake.
Not asleep, not dreaming—
its eyes are opened wide
watching distant signals, listening
on the rim of vast silence.
June 26, 2009 § 2 Comments
Yesterday was my wedding anniversary. Today is the anniversary of my first date with my lover.
This is not coincidental. Nine years ago—when my marriage was in tatters after a long buildup of anger neither of us had the tools to address, and my husband was unemployed, and I had confessed a brief affair with the brother of my recently deceased close friend Ann, who’d been dying of cancer all spring, and whose memorial I had just attended, a service my husband didn’t attend because of the brother—nine years ago, my wedding anniversary consisted of the two us eating spaghetti with bottled sauce and no grated cheese (why bother?) on our laps as we watched TV.
I think we remarked on how pathetic this meal was, but perhaps not. It didn’t seem to matter. We were too numb. I had begun to spin away.
The next day, I was scheduled to go to our country house for a week alone, but woke up so depressed I impulsively called the office number of a man I’d been chatting with online. He invited me to lunch. He told me how pretty I was. He said he’d like to touch me. I took his hands. We sat like that, a two-handed grip in the white tablecloth Italian restaurant, and if this were a romance novel I could say whole centuries passed and you’d get the point without fanfare.
Centuries didn’t pass and we didn’t know we’d found love, but something happened and soon my shoe was off and my foot in his crotch. (I was being a show-off, yes, but it was good.) He carried his astonishment and pleasure well, a slight adjustment of body and expression conveying a hard-earned sophistication. I was 45 and felt like every girl Sinatra’s referring to in the classic, It Was a Very Good Year. *
And then all the rest of it. Other days and nights, other years. Broken dates, broken hearts, marriages melted down and cast into strange new shapes. We each live apart from our spouses, but our spouses remain primary. My husband was just here from Florida and we celebrated both his birthday (a week late) and our anniversary (4 days early). We went to hear Junior Mance at Café Loup. Charles went up to Junior afterward and said, “I’ve been a fan of yours since the ‘50’s.” I felt like I was in a sci-fi movie though it’s only the ordinary passage of time. Charles is older than me by more than a decade, but still. I remember when the ‘50’s were 20 years ago.
After that we went to a bar and had too many drinks and the next day Fitzroy was upset because I didn’t get out of bed at the usual hour. He walked on my back, up and down, then settled between my shoulder-blades, meowing. Get up Mom. What do you mean, you have a hangover? Moms don’t get hangovers.
I got up. Eventually.
Tonight I’m celebrating with Philip. I have 24 red roses on the bureau I’m trying to keep the cats from eating. I’m wondering if I should have taken over the restaurant planning. I’m thinking June is a bitch. But I don’t regret getting married, and I don’t regret that day nine years ago. Life is an unwieldy machine.
*It Was A Very Good Year
When I was seventeen
It was a very good year
It was a very good year for small town girls
And soft summer nights
We’d hide from the lights
On the village green
When I was seventeen
When I was twenty-one
It was a very good year
It was a very good year for city girls
Who lived up the stairs
With all that perfumed hair
And it came undone
When I was twenty-one
When I was thirty-five
It was a very good year
It was a very good year for blue-blooded girls
Of independent means
We’d ride in limousines
Their chauffeurs would drive
When I was thirty-five
But now the days grow short
I’m in the autumn of the year
And now I think of my life as vintage wine
From fine old kegs
From the brim to the dregs
And it poured sweet and clear
It was a very good year
–written by Ervin Drake in 1961 for the Kingston Trio. Sinatra’s version won him a Grammy in 1966 for Best Male Vocalist.
February 24, 2009 § 6 Comments
I’d like to meet the man who invented sex and see what he’s working on now.
~ Author Unknown
My sex life has waned along with the economy. The correlation is obvious. Of all the turn-ons I’ve ever heard of, financial anxiety isn’t one of them. Escaping from anxiety is, of course, a classic motive for mindless fucking, but my lover and I seem to have worn out the escapist thing for the time being. “It is what it is,” he keeps saying. What he means is, “I’m finally ready to face what it is, even though the ‘is’ is a lot worse than a few years ago when I couldn’t.”
It’s okay to take a break. We have stuff to do. But just because my sex life is on pause, sex doesn’t go away; others are doing it; I have to stop and think why I’m not, and what’s left to want. I need to write about it to remind myself not to worry. Too much of my worrying happens when I’m not looking.
It’s a truism that people use sex to get lots of different needs met, and my greatest need when I was young was to know. Specifically, the longing to know about men was intense and overpowering. My father died when I was 10, a suicide who was scarcely more available when he was living. I wanted to experience the full range of men, to gather and categorize their glamour, and also, eventually, to dispel the excess. As the shrinks say, I needed to learn to self-regulate.
The laconic boys of my teenage years were such utter mysteries that every morsel of knowledge gained was a treasure. I regarded them with awe. Even the ones I deemed unattractive were more attractive than I wanted to admit. Many other girls had it easier—knew more boys, chatted and joked with more confidence because they didn’t see the opposite sex as beings of light and terror—but I also thought they didn’t know anything.
My first lesson was that sex (on the first, not-necessarily-date) zooms you past male defenses. It did so especially then, in the 1970’s. It surprised boys into intimacy in a way that being a ‘girlfriend’ wouldn’t have. For whatever reason, my willingness didn’t slot me into the category of slut, or not most of the time. Sex was my gift—offered freely, for my own pleasure and to see what would happen—and gifts evoke a whole different response than structured exchange.
In my 20’s, I had to deal with all the usual things sexual wanderlust brings—shame; the need to create a philosophical rationale for my behavior; and jealousy, mine and others’. It was exhilarating and then it was boring. I can understand how for some, tilting against or fitting oneself into social norms can be a source of lifetime intellectual fascination. But I was interested in special cases: as in, everybody is one.
I wanted to know secrets. Among women, that’s not usually too hard: sit patiently, ask questions, offer cake, withhold judgment and most will tell you the good stuff. Men are more of a problem. Often, they don’t know what the good stuff is and/or think it’s dangerous, so you have to fuck them silly.
But whatever you learn, there’s so much more beneath. And if you learn that, there’s twice as much. I suspected this about people in general from a young age but preferred not to dwell on it except when I was writing fiction, when it was a technical problem. But in matters of love, it’s the thing that pulls you under.
We want love to be difficult. There’s no possibility of romance if every door swings open. What do you do when it’s too difficult; how do you decide if you’ve reached that point? What scares me about myself is that though I’m a woman with many interests and identities—writer, friend, daughter, sister, stepmother, aunt—sexual or ‘partner’ love is my ground, my true north, the heat I would seek if I were a heat-seeking missile. And the men I love are not easy. Being in a many-partnered situation (adultery, polyamory, whatever—I hate all the words) insures that new levels of weirdness will appear. You wake up in the morning and there are seven extra floors in your brain, inhabited by invisible women and argument; and you have to take it in stride, make the coffee, get your work done. To do otherwise would be saying, all those passionate promises were nothing but sexual hysteria. Actually I can’t handle anything. Take your reality and shove it.
Life is hard now. There are uncertainties I can’t write about here, except to say they involve others’ pain and desperation, and cause me a different kind of desperation, and then there’s my financial loss, which, although I’ve been writing about it for months, I have yet to fully absorb. But I still value desire, still imagine it as the secret path away from the horrible and towards the true, as if the true were never horrible. The truth often is horrible, but desire is like water. When it evaporates, the seemingly vanished is in every breath you take. When it freezes, watch your step. And when spring comes, there no escaping it.
There is no remedy for love but to love more.
~Henry David Thoreau
O lyric Love, half angel and half bird, And all a wonder and a wild desire.
February 15, 2009 § 3 Comments
“— Sweet fiction, in which bravado and despair beckon from a cold panache in which the protected essential self suffers flashes of its existence to be immortalized by a writing self that is incapable of performing its actions without mixing our essence with what is false.”
This is Frank Bidart, from “Borges and I,” a poem in his book Desire.
What Bidart refers to in these particular lines* as falsity was to me the beauty, the world. To capture it and mix it with myself gave me shivers of power. I remember my first real novel, which was the first one published, the minor characters who had none of what I thought of as ‘myself’ in them were by far the most thrilling to me, though I knew they were not written with any great brilliance or insight. They were barely the real thing, but they were it; they existed and were not ‘me’; that was the power, with which nothing compares.
*He speaks of it in different ways throughout the long poem, which is an argument, a conversation, a man turning something around and around in his hand. I can’t do justice to his complex perspective.
Last night, Valentine’s Night, I wrote about my happiness and peace in regard to love, which was true when I wrote it. At the same time I knew or feared it wouldn’t be true later, or rather, wouldn’t be true any longer, therefore wouldn’t be able to be written about as a present containing many possibilities. A personal blog has a briefer shelf-life than fiction.
I wanted the story as it was. It was open. Its falsity was the kind that is an invitation.
Tonight I coil myself in words. I would like to keep doing it, page after page, like an autistic savant reciting prime numbers up beyond the budget deficit trillions, but I’ve done that before, and it leaves me with a hangover.
I will leave you with Bidart again, from Desire. The poem is called “If I Could Mourn Like a Mourning Dove” and this is the first part.
“It is what recurs that we believe,
your face not at one moment looking
sideways up at me anguished, or
elate, but the old words welling up…
February 14, 2009 § Leave a comment
It’s Valentine’s night and Philip is with Christine. I’m alone in his apartment. I was lazy all day, reading a mystery novel and eating chocolate except for the couple of hours I spent cleaning his kitchen floor and tub and under the bed, where the dust lay in greasy tangles like clumps of human hair. Of course I thought how strange this would seem to others—cleaning while he dines the wife—and will seem to him when he gets home, but it felt fine to me.
I like being alone here. I like being alone, knowing he will come back. I like cleaning the apartment. Is this my way of claiming wife status while he’s with his real wife? That’s obvious and probably true, but it’s true in a way that’s not really or not only delusion or denial. I must be turning Mormon.
Next week I’ll go visit Charles, my husband, who lives in Florida, and I’ll cook and clean for him—lots of baking and waffles—and we’ll take a road trip, see more of that peculiar state. I’ll sink into our deep marriage groove, the comfort of repetition and time. All the things we remember that nobody else knows. I wish I remembered more.
They feel almost perfectly balanced now, Philip and Charles. I’m at peace for the moment. Tomorrow will change that. The Sunday shows that Philip must watch—what’s going on now? Oh, right, world panic. That. I’m part of it: my few hundred grand went up in smoke and now I have close to nothing and no job. No buyers for the novel I spent years writing because my agent won’t even send it out in this climate.
I have a lot to do fixing my life. It was strangely comforting for awhile that so many were in the same boat and I can’t say I’d be happy if everyone was still out spending like bunnies (you know what I mean), but the world panic stuff, governments toppling, planes crashing into houses—.
I don’t think I’m experiencing 9/11 flashbacks. This is different, but I do keep thinking of fire. “We have a hole in our economy” the President says, and I see a map a cigarette chewed through: the map is the familiar USA, but the Midwest is missing; and the paper is soft, thin, flaking around the burnt edges.
And now I’m thinking of the dead: Ann Beckerman, JJ, my father, my grandmother. My grandmother wore gold and pearls, face powder and perfume; she loved parties and men. She wouldn’t understand a black president, but she’d understand me, at least a little. She died when I was 13. Too soon.
I should have called my mother today. I was afraid of her loneliness. I have to get over that. It’s just there, like the panic. You can’t hide from it.
February 6, 2009 § 1 Comment
While following the stimulus-plan drama on TV, I’ve been making Valentine’s Day jewelry—not specifically for V day, just necklaces featuring that bright pink we all associate with heart-shaped chocolate boxes, roses, and female baboons in heat.
Many men, for reasons I fail to understand, have an aversion to Valentine’s Day. Flowers, chocolates, sex—what’s so difficult? No guesswork is involved. My husband kept forgetting that I really liked expensive chocolate. For 25 years. But he made me some spectacular cards.
That was Charles, forgetful and poor. Philip actually hates the day itself, even though he listens to Sinatra on Jonathan Schwartz every weekend, and often cries. He’s as soft inside as a Hershey bar left on the dashboard in high summer. But maybe that’s the trouble. Why have a day for romance when all of life is supposed to be romantic, from boyish heroics to glamorous women, ‘50’s jazz bars, torch songs, idealistic Presidents…oh, wait, we have that last one. Maybe he’ll feel better this year.
I’m thinking we should skip the 14th and move right on to February 15th—the Roman festival of Lupercalia. On that date, in Classical times, Roman priests would go to the cave where the mythic she-wolf once suckled the twins Romulus and Remus, sacrifice a goat and a dog, smear the foreheads of two highborn young men with blood and wipe it off with wool soaked in milk, at which point the men were required to laugh—are you with me so far, guys? Then the hide of the goat was cut into strips and soaked in blood. The young men ran naked through the streets—except for a bit of goat hide fastened around their waists (I don’t know what happened to the dog, possibly eaten by the priests)—brandishing their bloody whips and lashing everyone in sight, but especially women who would line up for the favor, as this ritual was thought to bring fertility and ease in childbirth.
Now that Robert Bly’s Iron John has been unhip long enough to be hip again, maybe we should encourage our partners to strip down and flail about with animal hide, while we wait “like children at school present[ing] their hands to be struck”* and keep our mouths shut about how often we’ve entertained the fantasy of pulling out a bloody tampon and smacking them in the face with it.
Ok, maybe that’s just me.
Yes, I have my period today, for the 475th time. Imagine if I’d made embryos out of all those eggs, rounded up a herd of wolves to bear and suckle them…I could replace the entire House of Representatives and all Republican senators with my offspring.
* Plutarch, The Life of Caesar